Human Resources and Law

Law firm grows practices

April 8, 2015
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Douglas Wagner
Douglas Wagner. Courtesy Warner Norcross & Judd

A law firm is experiencing growth in several practices across the state, including a pair of new ones.


The legal profession has seen disruption due to technology, and Warner Norcross & Judd is taking steps to evolve with the industry and its clients’ needs.

“Technology is now replacing and performing work attorneys used to perform,” said Douglas Wagner, managing partner at Warner Norcross & Judd’s Grand Rapids office.

In addition, technology has added a whole new area of focus for attorneys.

Warner Norcross added a Data Solutions practice last year to focus on the overwhelming amount of data clients are collecting.

“In today’s world, especially with all the social media and email, everybody is drowning in data,” Wagner explained.

Wagner said the new practice covers data from “cradle to grave.”

“We can counsel them on what the law requires,” he said. “It’s really quite complicated as to what records you need to keep, for what reason and for how long. What can you safely discard, and go beyond that to helping companies with regard to litigation holds, and how do you preserve data in order to comply with the court requirements.”

The Data Solutions practice brings together attorneys with a variety of expertise and requires skill sets that weren’t common in the past.

The practice team includes records management specialists, data and information technology specialists and paralegals.

Wagner noted some of the roles that the Data Solutions team handles would have been outsourced in the past, but today to stay competitive, the firm has brought them in house.

He noted law firms are starting to face greater competition from non-attorneys who are performing services that were historically provided by lawyers. Data solutions services are a striking example of that.

“That is an example of us competing with outside service providers who aren’t lawyers,” Wagner said. “There are a lot of new companies out there that try to provide this same service.”

He said he thinks law firms still have an advantage over these types of competitors.

“Many of our clients think we are a better choice for that, because we have attorneys doing the work, and they know we are bound by rules of confidentiality," he said. "It’s why clients like Stryker would look to us for that service.”

Wealth transfer

Warner is also seeing an increase in wealth-transfer clients and has begun a Family Office practice, which it intends to grow to a national level.

“I think we are known for that in the region,” Wagner said. “We’ve got several dozen Family Office clients right now. Its not uncommon for families interested in transferring and preserving wealth to seek counsel outside of their local market, which would make us a viable alternative.”

He said the reason people seek counsel outside of their local market often has to do with a desire for greater confidentiality.

He pointed to Kalamazoo as a growing market for Warner’s Family Office practice.

“There is a lot of wealth in that part of the state,” he said. “We think there are some families down there that might benefit from a relationship with Warner.”

IP and automotive

Warner Norcross has also added three intellectual property attorneys to its Southfield office, where it is seeing an uptick in IP work, thanks to the auto industry and also its relationship with Dow Corning and Dow Chemical.

“A lot of our IP work is tied to automotive,” Wagner said. “There are great advances going on in the auto industry. It’s hitting on all cylinders."

Warner has more than 200 auto clients.

“There is a lot of new innovation going on, and its one of the strongest-growing practice areas in the country and certainly in Michigan, and southeast Michigan is no exception to that,” he said. “We view that as a growth area and that’s why we’ve added three new patent attorneys.”

The firm specifically grew its IP practice in the area of chemical engineering, which is the focus of two of its three new IP attorneys.

“While we have a number of mechanical and electrical engineers, we didn’t have any chemical engineers on staff,” Wagner said. “Now we have two and that has opened doors for us in terms of our ability to service clients like Dow Corning.”


Wagner said another growing area of law is related to the homeland security and defense industries, an area Warner’s Macomb office is particularly well-positioned to service, because the county has a lot of that type of business.

“We are the only large Michigan firm with an office in Macomb,” he said. “It’s one of the largest industries in the state of Michigan. We think it’s a nice fit with our automotive practice.”

Other practices

He noted an increase in mergers and acquisitions activity and a strong showing with its Appellate practice, which has introduced a new program focused on helping lawyers prepare for Michigan Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court cases, as well as growth in commercial real estate.

Regional growth

Wagner said overall Warner Norcross expects a good year head.

With eight offices in Michigan — Grand Rapids, Holland, Lansing, Muskegon, Southfield, Macomb County, Midland and Kalamazoo — the firm might be ready to expand beyond the state.

“We are reaching a point where we may have to consider whether we want to expand regionally,” Wagner said. 

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